The First Great Day of Our Trip

13 03 2011

I didn’t want to get my hopes up, seeing as they’d been dashed to bits many times over in the past six days, but this day was really becoming something worth putting my pen to paper for.  Leaving Salisbury, we drove north towards Avebury, following the same path proposed to have been used by the ancients to travel between Stonehenge and Avebury.  It was perpetually sunny, something that had occurred almost immediately as we drove out of London.  It was like the sky opened up and said ahh you’ve escaped, welcome to a better world!

Each town we encountered had me hanging half out the window with my camera ready to be put to work.  There were dilapidated abbeys and cottages with thatched roofs and quaint flower beds and crawling ivy and remarkable manor homes.  One would be hard pressed not to find an appealing picture in the viewfinder in any direction you looked.

On a hillside in the distance as we rounded a narrow lane we spotted a chalk horse outline and suddenly Glenn and Kayla were confused.  Did we really drive all the way back up to Kilburn?  No.  You mean there’s two horses?  I felt aggitation setting in because I had worked so hard on those damned guide books and in them it clearly detailed the history of chalk drawings and how many there were in the UK alone.  But the day was going too well to get irked and I tried to find patience.  I explained there were several and in this area alone I knew of four off of the top of my head.  We pulled over into the drive of someone’s farm and decided to take pictures.  Evidently, we weren’t the only ones who have done this as we found litter of camera lens covers and other paraphernalia.

Out of some obligatory need, the girls took out the guide book and began trying to brush up on the Avebury site.  These stones were placed about 5000 years ago and is the largest megalithic circle in the world at over 1400 ft in diameter.  As they came into view it was really difficult to see that it formed a circle, in fact we never did fully see the circle.

I had done a significant amount of research on the restaurant which claimed to be the only restaurant in the world situated in the middle of a stone circle and considering the stone circle was Avebury and most of the damn village was within the circle, it wasn’t much to brag about.  But the restaurant dated to the late 1500s and had a lot of spooky tales to boast, which made it worth the visit.  The reviews ranged from absolutely horrid to great and with the abundance of mixed reviews, I felt it safely worth the effort.

We made our way to the parking area, and as with most every place in Britain, there was a hefty price to park.  Two pound an hour here, although they would compensate the cost if you purchased food within and considering they were about the only decent place to park in town to access the stones, here I could at least understand the justification in paid parking.  I was a bit apprehensive initially, as the parking lot was filled with more Harleys than autos and I wondered had this been turned into some biker bar?  But it was too late to turn back now, so we moved into the narrow spot and piled out of the car.

I’m not really sure what it was about us, but we obviously looked the part of tourists, moreso than the others with cameras around their necks.  We seemed to catch the eye of several old men sitting on a nearby bench and likewise with a gathering of older women across the road that curved by the restaurant.  It irritated me because we’d not yet even spoke and already had the curious stares coming our way as though we had a third eye and green mohawks.

There was outdoor seating on the cobblestone patio at picnic tables, but this was not my cup of tea – despite that we could have smoked out there.  We went inside and I studied the door which held a sign that offered a detailed series of instructions on how to eat in their establishment.  First, find yourself a seat at a table.  Secondly, read the menu and pick out your choice entrée.  Then, note your table number and find the bar in the back to place your order.

We found a seat in the front room which held about 6 tables, including one which had been made out of the haunted well.  Supposedly, according to the owners, years ago Prince Charles (the son of Queen Elizabeth II, the man who may someday be the king of England – though I doubt it) came in to their restaurant while he was surveying some archaeological work at Silbury Hill in the 1970s.  He came in quite regularly and on one day asked the owners to remove the glass from the well in the restaurant, the well that is supposedly haunted.  The owner, Mike, told him that not even the King of England could make him open the top of the well.  The well is haunted by the ghost of Florrie who was at one point pushed down the well after being murdered at the restaurant.  Florrie’s husband was a soldier who went away to war and when he returned he found his wife in the arms of her lover.  He killed them both and shoved their corpses into the well.

The well table is supposedly the most popular one in the restaurant, but no one was sitting at it when we arrived.  And I wasn’t going to take any chances.  We piled in to table 23, a corner table that placed us across from a party of four middle aged folks.  We surveyed the menu and decided we were far enough away from London to risk trying fish and chips and except for myself, that is what everyone ordered.  Kayla had scampi, Glenn had cod, Alannah had haloumi and I went the safe route of English lasagne.  Glenn and I abandoned the girls to go place our order and while we waited I found it interesting to note that the pub had at one point catered very obviously to men.  There were Gentlemen’s restrooms – sorry, toilets – and a bar where one could sit at the bar, as well as a pub area where one could shoot darts and drink casually.  The women’s toilets were tucked away in the far rear like an afterthought or servants’ quarters that had been modified to make way for those pesky women.

Glenn ordered a beer as well, some ale with a mile long name we couldn’t pronounce; I decided to give the Victorian lemonade a try, and ordered both of the girls some Ginger beer.  I would have rather have sucked the dew from the grass than ever drink that Victorian lemonade again – let me say that!  It’s made of juniper berries, pear extracts, ginger and a dash of lemon juice to give it authenticity and it tastes like what I would imagine piss on ice would taste.  It was truly that bad.  But at two pound fifty pence a bottle, I was drinking the whole thing.

We returned to our table and took in the scenery through the large picture window and the room itself which dated to pure Tudor era.  As we sat there I happened to look over at the table with the two middle aged couples sitting next to us.  The one woman had stood up and she reached towards her glass on the table.  She hadn’t yet touched it when suddenly it exploded.  I don’t mean cracked, chipped, fell.  It exploded.  Glass flew across the room and the entire glass was shattered.

I grabbed the camera to get a shot of it and you can see it on the table there, obliterated.  That spooked the hell out of me.  I won’t say ghost, but spooky as all get out – oh yeah.

Food arrived and it was wonderful and flavourful.  Glenn and Kayla had mushy peas, which they absolutely loved but Alannah’s mint peas ended with her spitting them out in as ladylike a manner as possible before wretching to avoid hurling.  You’d think she had drank the Victorian lemonade!

After finishing our meal, we walked across the street to check out the stones.  They weren’t as great as Orkney’s, but they were still massive and unique.  I wanted to walk to the long barrow on Kennet but it was blocked off for erosion concerns.  We instead made a small loop through the stones and then Alannah spotted an antique store.

I was really dreading the venture, antique stores are so not my thing.  But she was persistent and got Glenn on her side, so in we went.  The door knob was old and twisted off when she tugged on it and we almost gave up, but the shop keeper very quickly came to let us in.

She was a charming lady, probably about fifty or so, and welcoming – much like everyone we had met south of Edinburgh.  She had a plethora of items – china from each royal wedding, tea towels too.  Victorian glassware and skeleton keys.  Near her register she had a dish of mint green pebbles, or so we thought.  But after a second glance and her explanation we learned these were Roman era coins, found nearby.

The woman knew her stuff, on almost everything in her shop, so I suppose it was because of this that I was incredibly proud when while examining the coins with us we noticed one had the face of a female.  Alannah piped up and said perhaps it was when Caligula had authorized the face of his sister to be printed on coins and the woman was taken aback and complimented Alannah on her knowledge of Roman history.  I was beaming.

We plucked up a few of the coins for more pounds than we probably should have thrown down and Kayla got herself a lovely Victorian era rose hip water goblet, which according to the woman was fashionable in the 1800s as a daily dose to keep oneself healthy.

We set out to return back to the hotel and for the first time in our trip I felt we had had a successful day.

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